Savannah, Ga. -- On the heels of a summer tourism season that broke records across the Southeast, over 300 small businesses issued a letter to President Obama today, urging him to drop his plans to expand oil and gas drilling that would threaten Atlantic beaches and their bottom lines.
“For the sake of our beaches, coastal communities and the significant boon coastal tourism provides to our economy, we the undersigned local business leaders are strongly opposed to drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast,” reads the letter, organized by Environment America and released along with the Gulf Restoration Network during a conference call with reporters this morning.
Coastal tourism in East Coast states generates billions of dollars in economic activity and supports over one million jobs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The southern Atlantic Coast is among the most popular shorelines in the world, drawing tens of millions of visitors each year.
Oil and gas drilling was banned for decades and currently isn’t permitted in this region, where the lack of industrial development on the coastline has helped allow a host of tourism businesses to flourish, from fishing and surfing, to vacation rentals and restaurants.
In January, however, the Obama administration’s Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management announced a draft plan for 2017 to 2022 that would allow oil and gas drilling leases across a large swath of the Atlantic Coast stretching from Virginia to Georgia.
“Georgia’s tourism season is crucial to the success of my restaurant. The summer months bring an influx of visitors to Savannah who come here in large part due to our beautiful beaches and the lifestyle they support,” said Jeff Downey, owner of Circa 1875 restaurant in Savannah. “The delicious food, the variety of businesses, the opportunity to experience what Georgia’s coast has to offer – it all stands to lose if offshore drilling moves forward.”
“Our entire economy is based on the reputation of our beaches as clean and uncrowded,” said Cola Vaughan, co-owner and operator of Cola Vaughan Realty in Nags Head, N.C.
Beyond the businesses represented on today’s letter, the drilling proposal has met broad, bipartisan opposition, with half a million Americans and more than 500 communities, members of Congress, chambers of commerce, and local elected officials all registering disapproval.
Conservationists said they would continue to work with businesses and coastal communities to get the Atlantic Coast eliminated from the administration’s drilling plan, which is expected to become final next year.
“Atlantic drilling would threaten our beaches, our wildlife, and our families,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program. “The hundreds of businesses who signed today’s letter show that drilling would also threaten our coastal economy. That’s why we’re calling on the president to drop his plans for more drilling and spilling, and to double down on clean energy instead.”